The home healthcare industry evolves faster than ever due to the needs of baby boomers and the demands of COVID-19.
Agencies throughout the county hire home health aides to provide an array of services to their clients. The aides may perform practical nurse services such as medication maintenance or more companion-oriented duties such as meal preparation or light housekeeping.
Demographic societal trends were already increasing the demand for home healthcare before the pandemic. Reflecting the aging of the baby boomer generation, for the first time in history, the American population will soon be comprised of more people over 60 years old than people under 60 years of age.
Meanwhile, the isolating nature of the pandemic has been particularly tough on the elderly, exposing and creating concern for physical and psychological declines, creating an increase demand for home healthcare. To complicate matters, the number of home healthcare aides is in decline.
“We’ve seen a huge spike in demand due to the pandemic,” says Shan Wade, president of Steps Home Care, based in White Plains. “The flipside of the coin is that it’s done a number on the workforce management side of the business. A lot of the caregivers are on unemployment, or they’re frontline workers and they’ve decided to get into a different line of work.”
“So we were hit with a double whammy as a lot more people need care or have realized that they need care, and meanwhile we’re working with a diminishing healthcare-giver pool to try to service that demand,” Wade explains.
To attract and retain home healthcare givers to Steps Home Care, the agency pays its workers a little more than most, Wade says. Many workers in the industry make the minimum wage, depending on their patients’ needs, and the agency generally pays a couple of more dollars an hour.
Making his workforce and patients feel safe has been a priority for the agency, Wade adds. Many of Steps Home Care’s workers live in the Bronx and would normally use public transportation to their Westchester County jobs. During the pandemic, the agency has provided Uber service to and from their posts.
“This way they’re coming into contact with one person (the Uber driver) instead of a train full of people,” Wade says. “It also makes it a little bit more likely that they’re going to make it to work on time. It’s an additional cost, but it comes with benefits.”
The demand for workers in the home healthcare industry currently exceeds supply, according to Glenn Lane, founder of Westchester Family Care, based in Mamaroneck. “It’s a lower-paid job as many of these frontline jobs are, and that creates resistance. We’re trying to differentiate and make it as attractive as we can.”
Westchester Family Care operates a training center in Katonah where it educates and certifies home caregivers at no cost to trainees. “I built the school a couple of years ago to broaden the pool of the potential work force,” Lane says. “Once you’ve completed the training, you can work for any licensed agency, but we hope you’ll work for us.”
Individuals new to the home healthcare field can obtain home health aide certification after three weeks (15 days) of training. Westchester Family Care also offers recertification classes and certified nursing aid programs.
A public perception that nursing homes were susceptible to COVID-19 made people more hesitant about placing the elderly in assisted care facilities, Lane says. “Early on there was a high level of COVID in the facilities,” Lane says. “And they couldn’t have visitors for a very long time during the pandemic. So that created an increase in the idea of staying home.”
Maintaining strict adherence to CDC guidelines and most clients and caregivers becoming fully vaccinated has helped to make care receivers and care providers more confident that now is a good time to move forward with home care services.
Timothy Leddy, president of VNS Westchester, says that when the pandemic first hit there was anxiety on the patients’ part to allow staff into their homes. After the first wave, Leddy says, “the patients and their families were choosing home healthcare as a means of keeping their loved ones in their homes in a safe and secure environment. Patients and their families have discovered that home healthcare is the perfect option because it is the safest and most desired situation.”
To provide home healthcare in New York, an agency must be approved by the NYS Department of Health, and most agencies are accredited by CHAP (Community Health Accreditation Program). Agencies are surveyed on a regular basis to make sure they are compliant with NYS and Federal Government regulations.
Founded in 1901, VNS Westchester is the largest independent, not-for-profit, Medicare-certified home healthcare in the county. Leddy adds that patients and caregivers have become especially comfortable using technology such as telehealth and virtual visits during the pandemic.
“Home healthcare can provide patients comprehensive care in the comfort of their own home,” Leddy says. “There is no turning back at this point.”
Debra Lang, owner of Seniors Helping Seniors Home Care Agency, said many seniors who were living in assisted living facilities returned home where they and their families felt they would be better insulated from contracting COVID. With safety, health, and wellness being the top priority, families experienced concern over outsiders coming into the home.
The need was there but the practicality of moving forward with home care services was challenging, Lang says. “The same health concerns carried over to the caregivers as well. They were hesitant to expose themselves and were extremely selective with the cases they would be interested in working.”
At Seniors Helping Seniors Home Care Agency, based in Bedford Hills, senior care providers are recent retirees aged 55 and older who provide companionship and assistance to aging seniors.
“Maintaining strict adherence to CDC guidelines and most clients and caregivers becoming fully vaccinated has helped to make care receivers and care providers more confident that now is a good time to move forward with homecare services,” Lang says. “Additionally, family members who have served as the primary caregivers during COVID are returning to work and require more comprehensive homecare coverage options.”